Back to a ‘spe­cial place’ for cou­ple

Bangor Mail - - FRONT PAGE -

Pic­tures from dis­band­ment:

THE Duke and Duchess of Cam­bridge made an emo­tional re­turn to the base where the Prince served as a search and res­cue pi­lot to mark the for­mal end of the ser­vice.

Wil­liam and Kate stood in Hangar 116 at RAF Val­ley to see the re­main­ing mem­bers of the SAR force pa­rade their colours for the fi­nal time af­ter pri­vate firm Bris­tow as­sumed re­spon­si­bil­ity for search and res­cue in the UK.

With Whirl­wind and Sea King he­li­copters as a back­drop, the royal cou­ple heard Air Chief Mar­shall Sir Baz North praise the men and women who had saved lives from the An­gle­sey base for more than 75 years.

As they marched away for the last time, the royal cou­ple joined the ap­plause for a ser­vice which was called out 34,122 times and helped al­most 27,000 peo­ple since of­fi­cial records be­gan in 1983.

Group Cap­tain Steve Bent­ley, cur­rent RAF Search and Res­cue Com­man­der, had mixed feel­ings about the oc­ca­sion.

“It’s a strange day be­cause it’s a mix­ture of emo­tions,” he said.

“On the one hand it is sad, but we have mas­sive pride in what we have done. The over­whelm­ing emo­tion is pride in hav­ing de­liv­ered a ser­vice to the na­tion.”

Dur­ing his three years at RAF Val­ley Prince Wil­liam un­der­took 156 op­er­a­tions, res­cu­ing 149 peo­ple.

Hav­ing flown in by he­li­copter for the for­mal cer­e­mony, the royal cou­ple were later en­ter­tained at a re­cep­tion in the Ladies’ Room at the of­fi­cers’ mess.

They looked re­laxed and at ease as they met ser­vice­men and women who had staffed the squadrons.

Wing Com­man­der “Sparky” Dun­lop was the of­fi­cer com­mand­ing 22 Flight SAR at Val­ley when it was handed over to Bris­tow last year, and sub­se­quently flew the last mis­sion of any RAF SAR flight at RAF Chivenor, Devon.

He paid trib­ute not only to the pi­lots but to those be­hind the scenes. “To­day is about the en­gi­neers and sup­port staff who all worked to­gether to res­cue tens of thou­sands of peo­ple,” he said.

Re­mem­ber­ing the royal guest’s days at the con­trols of the Sea King, he said: “He was a good pi­lot. In our work there is no room for hangers-on, and he earned his wings just like ev­ery­one else.

“He did bring a spot­light on us, but that was a good thing. Hope­fully, it brought a spot­light on the work we do.”

He added: “The Prince is a part of our fam­ily and hope­fully he will al­ways be part of that fam­ily.”

Some of those present had served with the Prince, in­clud­ing Flight Sergeant Rob Lin­foot.

“He’s ab­so­lutely bril­liant,” he said of Wil­liam. “You can’t dis­like him. He re­ally ex­pected a lot of him­self and he strived to be bet­ter than any­one else.

“He coped bril­liantly with all he had been through in the press and he was a bril­liant pi­lot.”

The Royal cou­ple were well turned out and greeted old friends and col­leagues as well as watch­ing the cer­e­mony of dis­band­ment for 22 Squadron where Wil­liam once worked

Wing Com­man­der Sparky Dun­lop Flight Sergeant Rob Lin­foot chats to the Prince

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